Being an aunt to a beautiful little girl, I am in the middle of learning all of the do's and don'ts of taking care of young children. There are so many "suggestions" out there—from not allowing your child to watch TV until they're two years old, to not giving them anything with refined sugar, gluten, MSG, GMOs, pesticides, farm-raised, blah, blah, blah. There are even some "experts" out there that tell you not to let children drink apple juice. Apple juice. What has this world come to?
When I was growing up, my parents didn't follow all of these "experts" and their so-called advice. I am the third child, and like all youngest children will tell you, my parents had already been through enough experiences to realize that a lot of parenting advice is BS.
Yup, no restrictions on what I could and could not eat as a child. If I wanted a Pop-Tart as a snack (s'mores, warmed up in the microwave for 20 seconds, jus' sayin'), I was allowed. If I was at the supermarket and I begged my mom for a jar of Nutella, she graciously let me add it to the cart.
No dietary restrictions made me feel, well, unrestricted. But this didn't cause me to eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Instead, I wanted healthy and wholesome foods (especially the home-cooked meals my mom makes), because I knew if I wanted a little slice of pie or some gummies later on, it was there for me.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't as if my parents didn't make me dinner and I was left to eat M&M's by myself. They wholeheartedly supported a healthy diet, and made my lunches and prepared my dinner. But they didn't forbid me from having sugar and salt.
The Importance of Abundant Food
Whenever friends would come to my house, they would envy my pantry – filled to the brim with all kinds of cereal (especially Fruit Loops), peanut butter, crackers, Cheez-Its, and Milano cookies. But it was also filled with roasted nuts, dried fruits, and granola. And as my freezer always had tubs of ice cream, my fridge also had tons of apples.
Now, this isn't meant to brag about the abundance of food in my household–it's to show how important food is to my family. Being Middle Eastern, food is the center of all gatherings, big and small. Seriously, we can't do anything without excessively eating. It can get annoying sometimes.
No matter what event or time of day, my grandma always puts out a feast for the family. Her reasoning behind so much food is to not only make our stomachs full (as all grandmas love to do), but also to make our minds (and hearts) full. My mom learned from her mom and followed suit, and now that's being passed on to me, too.
Appreciating Real Food
The lack of restrictions on my diet and the wide variety of foods that surrounded me made me appreciate all types of food–safe to say, I was never a picky eater. Because I had the freedom to choose what I wanted, my parents were also eager to let me experiment. Exhibit A: my all-time favorite was pita bread with ketchup. Yeah, I was weird, I know.
But, as I said before, no restrictions = no restricted mindset. This allowed me to enjoy and appreciate every food that I was given, healthy and unhealthy. And I'm still that way – I love all kinds of food (except anchovies, those things are nasty).
No Binges Later on
Because unhealthy foods were available to me, I never went crazy when I would see cupcakes or cookies at school or at gatherings. But some of my peers, who were never allowed to eat anything that wasn't organic, let alone unhealthy, wouldgrab everything in sight – safe to say those kids didn't grow up to be the healthiest of the bunch.
When parents restrict their children so much at a young age, the children grow up with a restricted mindset. Unhealthy foods become a type of "forbidden treasure," so when children grow older and can find these foods by themselves, they will go for it. Such restriction can perpetuate later eating disorders and wrongful attitudes toward food.
A Healthy Approach to Food
What's a healthy approach to food? It means eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're full, and occasionally letting yourself #splurge because you deserve it. And I can thank my childhood experiences with food for it.
So what happened to me because my parents let me eat whatever I wanted as a child? Nothing terrible. I'm not obese, in fact, I am probably the healthiest one out of my family and friends. I'm not insecure when it comes to food but instead, appreciate it.